Mill Workers and Owners

About the Derwent Valley Mills Heritage Site

This page gives background information into some of the mills that make up the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.


The Silk Mill 

At the start of the eighteenth century, Thomas Cotchett worked with the engineer George Sorocold to build a water-powered silk mill on an island in the River Derwent near the centre of Derby. Cotchett installed a number of Dutch machines to produce silk but the project was not a success, possibly because it was inadequately equipped.


One of Cotchett’s employees, John Lombe felt that the answer to effective silk production lay with the Italian process. Following a trip to Italy, Lombe returned with a number of Italian workmen and drawings of the Piedmontese throwing machines. In 1721, Lombe and his brother began to build a mill adjacent to Cotchett’s mill.


As well as ideas based on the Italian production system, Lombe’s mill contained many elements of the modern factory system. The machinery was driven from a common power source and housed in a large, purpose built, multi-storeyed building. By 1730, a large labour force of 300 people was employed. The system of working and the organisation of the labour force was one of the important legacies of Lombe’s mill. Spinning was carried out by women and children with men employed as craftsmen, supervisors or weavers. Working hours were 11.5 in summer and 10.5 in winter. Jedediah Strutt went on to base the working day at his North Mill on the example set by Derby Silk Mill.


Strutt's North Mill, Belper  

The mill site in Belper was developed by Jedediah Strutt from 1776. The mill was powered by the River Derwent and the site was developed over the years by generations of the Strutt family. The Strutt family needed to attract families to come and live in Belper so that their children would be available to work in the mills. Over the years they built houses, gas works, swimming baths and a school.

Strutt’s North Mill continued as a working textile mill until 1991.


Cromford Mill  

It was at Cromford that Richard Arkwright invented a cotton spinning machine called the Water Frame and began a new system of cotton manufacture which developed the model for the factory system.


When Arkwright came to Cromford it was a small village with the population employed in lead mining and agriculture. 'The Cromford sough', a lead drain into which ran a thermal spring, meant that there was a constant supply of water. Cromford was remote with poor roads which could have been an advantage as the design of Arkwright’s spinning machine was top secret.


Arkwright paid workers more than other mills locally and provided well for his workers in housing and education. He adopted the 'carrot and stick' approach, which involved a fining or forfeit system to punish workers and encourage good behaviour in and out of the workplace. He was one of the first people to pioneer working around the clock.


Arkwright lived in Rock House overlooking the mill and workers would doff their caps in the direction of the house just in case he was looking out over them.


Masson Mills 

Richard Arkwright built Masson Mill in Matlock Bath in 1783, twelve years after he built his first water-powered mill at Cromford. Masson Mill was built on the River Derwent which gave Arkwright access to a power source ten times greater than that at the Cromford site. The mill was built in red brick to reflect the wealth and success of Arkwright.

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